A Russian cultural break from Iran’s stronghold in Damascus
An art exhibition in the heart of the Syrian capital
Sunday – 7 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1444 AH – 02 October 2022 AD Issue No. [
Visitors to the exhibition held in the house of Prince Abdul Qader Al-Jazaery in Damascus (Asharq Al-Awsat).
Damascus: “Middle East”
Women visitors, in their light and colorful summer clothes, had to be careful when entering the narrow alleys and passing checkpoints in the Al-Amarah neighborhood, to reach the art exhibition located in the house of Prince Abdel Qader Al-Jazaery, adjacent at the shrine of Sayyida Ruqayya, north of the Umayyad Mosque in Old Damascus.
The “Lilit Art” gallery opened its first exhibition in the house and presented the different plastic experiences of artists Issam Darwish, who participated with nine paintings, Ismail Nasra with ten works, and Ammar Al-Shawa with ten works.
And since that area was subjected to an explosion in 2015 that targeted Iranian pilgrims in the Al-Kallaseh neighborhood, it has turned into an Iranian security square whose entrances are closed with iron gates, and checkpoints and patrols armed with black uniforms in its environment has been deployed. and surveillance cameras showed the wall of the shrine (visited by Shiite pilgrims) reinforced with nets. The railing is about ten meters high. Flags and placards with green and black religious slogans dot the neighborhood, and shops and stalls selling flags, swimming pools, religious souvenirs, incense and other manifestations for which the Syrian identity of Damascus has faded and its accent has been lost amid a mix . of Lebanese, Iraqi and Persian accents.
Numerous signs of exclamation and questions surrounded the establishment of the “Lilit Art” gallery, his first art exhibition, under the auspices of the Syrian Ministry of Culture and in collaboration with the “Russian House,” in the house of Prince Abdul Qader Al – Jazaery, whose construction dates back to about 400 years and whose residence is in the middle of the nineteenth century.
After years, during which the Syrians almost forgot about the alleys of the Al-Amarah neighborhood around the shrine of Mrs. of Prince Abdul Qader Al-Jazaery, who enjoys a special status among the Damascenes, was opened for his role in shedding blood during the unrest of the year 1860, and housing Christians who fled persecution, is the one that escaped from the dominance of French colonization of his country, Algeria.
Therefore, thanks to the Russian sponsorship of the exhibition, the Syrians were able to visit an archaeological site with important historical and political symbolism, which offered a cultural and social event with a political dimension that showed the map of Iranian-Russian competition over the historical heart of Damascus.
One of the (foreign) guards told a visitor who asked about the location of the exhibit: “Since this week we have had no work but to guide visitors to the Al-Jazaery’s house.” He jokingly continued: “We don’t wait anymore. for their question, as soon as we see strangers in the neighborhood, we hurry to point to the road.”
The “strangers” whom the guard, who was relaxed on his chair, visited in the afternoon did not look like him. He is the stranger in Damascus and the surrounding area. They are the visitors of the exhibition, most of whom Syrians are.
The young man, who studies fine arts and visited the exhibition with his girlfriend, advised her to “wear loose, modest clothes” before going there. He told us that three years ago he visited the neighborhood and tried to take a picture of the window of an old house, but the guards stopped him because “photography was forbidden”. Therefore, the art student saw his visit to the exhibition and the neighborhood in which it is held as a rare opportunity to learn about a Damascene architectural masterpiece and take pictures of those places. But the situation as a whole struck him with “schizophrenia”, as he put it in a scene he described as “surreal”, saying: “After crossing the alleys overshadowed by Shiite extremism, you come entering an old Damascene house, you will be greeted by a plaque that reads (The Russian House), then a luxurious room decorated with a Russian icon of Jesus Christ, and then a heavenly space overlooking over 38 rooms spread over two floors.
Some of the ground rooms looked used, there was a bedroom under the adjacent Damascus wall, and a reception room decorated with photos of the patriarch of Russia next to photos of Abdel Qader al-Jazaery, and family photos belonging to the current owner of the house. Around Al-Bahra and its fountain the exhibition’s paintings were crowded, and the audience, artists, intellectuals, journalists and critics raised toasts and talked about the exploits of the Algerian prince and discussions about (1860) which made the place a historical specificity.
Within the crowd and celebration, the presence of the Syrian authorities was absent. There is no official symbol, such as a Syrian flag, or security personnel or even police in the area. The spokesperson adds: “We were guests in our home.” He continues: “The word (surreal) most likely came from Syria, as you won’t find a scene like this except in the heart of Damascus, which is under Russian and Iranian occupation.”
As for the house that hosted the exhibition, it was bought ten years ago by Samir Ghadban, a Syrian-Russian businessman, from the heirs of the Al-Jazaery family. The restoration work started in 2010, but he was forced to during the war, to return and start its restoration after the Russian military intervention in Syria in the fall of 2015 and ends in 2018, and he lived in it with his family and decided to also open it for cultural activities and events in collaboration with the “Russian House” of the Russian Cultural Center in Damascus, and he said in media statements that this exhibition is the first activity after the reopening and restoration of the house, which points to The importance of the residence building of Prince Abdul Qader Al-Jazaery, who played a major role in Syrian society, and the exhibition came today to embody Damascus’ message of love and peace.
For his part, the director of the Russian Cultural Center in Damascus, Nikolai Sukhov, confirmed to the local newspaper, Al-Watan, “the special importance of the palace of Emir Abdelkader Al-Jazaery for Russia,” as he put it: ” In this place, Russian diplomats took refuge during the events of the middle of the nineteenth century, This palace was their refuge.”